In the wake of the Charleston Massacre, defenders of the Confederate flag have emerged en masse in an attempt to maintain the lie that the flag is a benign and significant symbol of Southern heritage. When I enter the fray to object, I am told that it isn’t my place to tell other people how to relate to their heritage. The implicit understanding behind this being that I, as a black woman, am an outsider who could never understand.
What they don’t know is that I am a biracial black woman born and raised in Georgia. Both branches of my family tree have roots that stretch back through Jim Crow, Reconstruction, and the Civil War all the way to the American Revolution.
So let’s talk about our Southern heritage.
Many people argue that the flag’s prominence is a reflective of a deep commitment to history and to being faithful to the entire history of the South. However, the Confederate flag is a prominent feature in Southern life, because for many Southerners the values of the Confederacy still resonates.
So what is the root of this resonance? Some pro-flag folks argue that they admire Confederates’ commitment to states’ rights. It is apparently irrelevant to these people that the Confederates took no pains to hide the fact that their own commitment to state’s rights stemmed primarily from their desire to continue owning slaves.
Surely people who have a more sincere theoretical commitment to limiting the power of the federal government can find a better intentioned, less fraught example in support of their ideas than the civil war.
Still, my favorite reason I’ve heard people give for why they fly the Confederate Flag is that to take down the flag is a form of historical censorship that sugar coats the past.
Personally, I am all for remembering the Confederacy, and I appreciate that so many pro-flag folks share this commitment. That’s why all of these Confederate memorial plaques include tidbits like:
The rape of female slaves was a pervasive part of plantation culture.
It was not uncommon to cut off the foot of a slave who attempted to run away.
After giving birth, female slaves were forced to leave their infants on the side of the fields where they were sometimes killed by snakes.
At this point, all that’s left is for someone to say is “You’re denying my ability to celebrate any of the history of the region I love. What’s even left?”
If you would like to celebrate an enslaved Southerner who demonstrated extraordinary bravery and whose story is related to the history of Emanuel African Methodist, I would suggest you look into Denmark Vesey.
But if flags are what really do it for you, might I suggest that the symbol of the Lowndes Country Freedom Party, a black third party alternative to the segregationist Democratic Party in Alabama, would make a good flag?
And if the thought of the above listed drum majors for justice and revolutionaries who lived and died fighting for freedom doesn’t fill you with Southern pride, and if you choose to place the Confederate flag at the centerpiece of your Southern heritage — then you’re a racist.
Because when it comes down to it, flying the Confederate flag is a racist act done by racist people. All the explanations in the world are just red herrings meant to distract people from the fact that the flag is a symptom. What we really need to fight is the underlying disease of racism that permeates every aspect of life in America, not just the South.
As a Southerner, hate is neither my inheritance nor my heritage. The will to fight injustice is. It is a potent legacy, and one that when put at the center of Southern heritage has the power to do more than displace a symbol of hate. It has the power to pull racism up by its very roots.
By Micah Jones